Alcohol Abuse and its Effects on the Economy

Most of us know that alcohol abuse causes conflict and problems in families throughout the country. And you may know that individuals and families spend millions of dollars each year on the effects of the disease of alcoholism. But do we know just how big of an impact on our economy alcoholism has?

When measuring the cost of alcohol abuse in the U.S., we have to consider such things as health services and medical expenses, premature death, loss of productivity, and alcohol related crimes. In total, the U.S. economy loses an estimated $185 billion each year to alcohol-related problems, according to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.(2)

Drunk Driving Costs

Drunk driving is a sensitive subject to many people because so many lives have been affected by this crime. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes kill someone every 31 minutes and nonfatally injure someone every two minutes. During 2005, 16,885 people in the U.S. died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, comprising 39% of all traffic-related deaths. (1)

Medical and Social Costs

Alcohol inflicts costs in many other ways as well. Alcohol abusers are medically at risk for liver damage, brain damage, and cancer, as well as causing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in pregnant women. Alcohol is often a factor in homicides and suicides. Crimes caused by individuals influenced by alcohol put a strain on the criminal justice system, and inflict costs for police officers, legal fees, and property repair.

Workplace Costs

Another large portion of the cost to the economy is the impact on employers by their alcohol-abusing employees. Health care costs have already skyrocketed, and because of the increased risk of medical problems with alcoholics, these individuals will incur higher health care costs.

Absences are another issue for employers. Because of poor health, hangovers, or other alcohol related problems, alcohol abusers are more likely to miss work than many of their co-workers.

Finally, loss of productivity is a strain businesses have to manage with employees that abuse alcohol. Even if an alcoholic is present at work and not drinking, their performance at work can often be compromised by hangovers, health complications, lack of focus, or psychiatric issues.

Treatment and Prevention

A smaller portion of the cost on the economy is the money that is spent on the treatment and prevention of alcoholism. Estimates indicate that corporations spend less than 0.1 percent of their total healthcare bill on treatment, but businesses end up paying much more for the consequences of untreated alcohol abuse.(2) New approaches need to be made in order to successfully admit into treatment those affected by alcoholism. We need to keep in mind that alcohol abuse hurts not only the individual or the family, but businesses and society as well. We must encourage alcohol abusers and alcoholics to find the right treatment program for their success.